So over the years I’ve always arbitrarily planned out my campaigns, starting with a central idea/location and spiraling outward. The DM’s guides have always suggested to do so and it’s always been the easiest way to just (for lack of better words) pull stuff out of your ass to create a game world. I realize some of the best campaign worlds may have been taken from thin air with little to no planning, however I’ve always envied a fully realized idea. Having everything done from the get-go can really put your head in the game when it comes to planning motivations and dripping your storyline with vivid places and NPC’s. Looking at some of the maps of Faerûn can make your jaw drop, so in an attempts at fully realizing something I took my current campaign world and sat down and took some time to spiral it outward in leaps and bounds.
Sticking to the planet scheme with suns/moons, ecosystem and different planes of existence etc, is what I find easiest to begin with. Anything more abstract than this concept is great too but I tend to tread closer to familiarity to better realize my world. I sat down and sketched out a world, it’s moons and sun and their orbits, seasons, time details, divinity theologies, and things really started coming together. I had a list of places my players had wrote in their back stories and just worked them into the game world where I felt appropriate, alongside existing ones. Keeping note of things like when a player mentioned their character grew up in “Forest X” miles outside “City Y” I accounted for that and plotted them onto a map – perhaps changing names here and there. Another option would be that you could just leave out names and just start dotting your entire globe and it’s landmasses with varied terrain and locations and then decide their names and purposes later, it gives you a lot to work with really.
I’ve been running 2 separate campaigns, the modular Chaos Scar setting for my coworker & friends game night, and for my own campaign a totally custom world centered around a city called Ravenhill. However I decided it would be easier for me, and better for my players if I just have these two places exist within the same boundaries of a single world. To explain this I purposed that the world itself has a magical ‘ozone’ of sorts created by elder magi and other ubiquitous beings long ago and are still maintained to this day via spires that break the cloud lines, while some weak spots exist allowing for meteor showers, one such shower allowed a massive breakthrough in this ‘ozone’ smashing an entire continent and transforming it into the Chaos Scar. Now both my players can hear news from far and wide about other adventuring parties on Aetas (my campaign world) which will allow for even more interesting stories as one group of my players play a band of evil geniuses working in tandem and the others being a merry bunch of do-gooders.
Another thing I’ve been attempting to do is creating flowcharts for adventure arcs and plot lines, some seem really simple once you lay them out but I find they still help you keep on track as well as keep your players on track. Using masterplan pretty much takes care of all of this for you as long as you link encounter and plot elements. This could all easily be done in visio, excel, or various other applications as well, or even on good old fashioned paper! I’ve found that no matter how much I try and plan my campaign on a PC it doesn’t work out the same until I break out a pen/pencil and some paper and graph papers and go to town, later transferring that all back over to a digital medium. I know it’s extra work on my behalf but my thoughts just flow better that way, use whichever is best for you. Remember DM’ing is an art and not a science and whatever feels best for you is what you should keep plugging away at.
Borrow from whatever you can, let your mind wander and remember it’s okay if what you dream up seems rehashed or overdone, because as long as your world is a fun place to be an adventurer in it’s all that counts!
(for tomorrow: Hammerfast Review as promised! (and hopefully a report back from my first D&D Encounters), Friday: Fun new abilities for PC’s)